WILL Empower hosted the first Womxn’s Labor Leadership Symposium & Awards on September 30 and October 1, 2021. We encouraged all participants to lean into a new movement in labor that centers womxn. The symposium engaged labor unions, community organizations and worker centers to celebrate the dedication to innovation, thought leadership and action by some of the most powerful womxn leaders in the country.

If you are watching and thinking of stepping up to leadership, taking the next step – I want to encourage you to... even if it might make you feel uncomfortable, because the labor movement needs you.

– Liz Shuler
President, AFL-CIO

WILL Empower identifies, convenes, develops, and nurtures a new generation of women labor leaders, employing a broad, multi-pronged approach to engage women on multiple levels and through interwoven programs including: apprenticeships, executive and emerging cohorts, and fellowships.  A national program, WILL Empower is the legacy project of the Berger-Marks Foundation and is jointly housed at Rutgers’ Center for Innovation in Worker Organization in the School of Management and Labor Relations and Georgetown’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.

“Labor and economic and social justice movement needs new faces. We need new voices, especially women's and especially womxn of color's voices. And desperately, we need new ideas if it is to survive and prosper.

– Dr. Adrienne Eaton
Dean, Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations

The Symposium featured the testimony and narrative of leaders across the country. Some leaders included: Lauren Jacobs of Power Switch Action; Veronica Mendez- Moore of Centro Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha; Sara Steffens of Communications Workers; Sarita Gupta of the Ford Foundation, Stacy Davis-Gates of the Chicago Teachers Union; and Tanya Wallace-Gobern of the National Black Worker Center.


Image of Womxn's Labor Leadership Symposium


“We won't win unless we support a movement of people that don't have access to our democracy-practicing institutions but want it, a group which represents the majority of workers in the country.

– Erica Smiley
Executive Director, Jobs with Justice & WILL Empower Fellow

Designed specifically for womxn in worker justice movements, the symposium included plenaries, workshops, and facilitated conversations with veteran leaders, new leaders, and new worker leaders and activists. Collectively, we heard from some of the most influential womxn leaders in the country. We invited womxn at different points in their working lives and leadership trajectory to find a space in the flow of the symposium.


Image of Womxn’s Labor Leadership Symposium


“One of the things that stuck out to me was the amazing women organizers that led unions and did not back down.

– Lorraine Lauger
IBEW Local 606, Symposium Participant

The WILL Empower Awards Ceremony celebrated courageous leaders who are innovating to transform our movements. We amplified the leadership of Juana Armingo, Cherika Carter, and Erica Iheme with “essential worker award,” the “behind-the-scenes award," and the “game changer award.” We also celebrated Marshe Doss and Jade Hurley with “student/youth organizer award”.  In memory of Edna Berger, we gave the Edna Berger Young Courageous Leader Award to two young womxn leaders under thirty—Chynna Baldwin, founder of the Protest After Care Fund and The Community Care Collective in Ohio, and Angeles Solis, advocate and lead worker organizer at Make the Road New York. The ceremony continues the legacy of the Berger Marks Foundation Edna Awards.


Image of Womxn’s Labor Leadership Symposium & Awards


“A powerful worker justice movement has womxn leaders at its core...we need antiracist feminist leadership practice to grow and deepen our movements.... At its heart, WILL Empower is about connecting us all and making us stronger together.

– Sheri Davis & Lane Windham
WILL Empower Co-directors